Despite labor drama, NWHL ‘never healthier’
While the NHL reaches new revenue highs and heads into its season with an optimistic labor situation, the National Women’s Hockey League has experienced a turbulent past 18 months. The chief drama centers around an ongoing boycott of the league by star players, as questions persist about the viability of women’s pro hockey in North America.
Despite the turmoil, as the NWHL heads into its fifth season, Commissioner Dani Rylan says, “The league has never been healthier.”
“The focus right now is on the players and the fans who believe in the NWHL and what we’re building together,” she added, noting that the five leaguewide sponsors — Chipwich, Dunkin’, the NHL, Twitch and Veda — are the most in its history.
There have been no active conversations between the NWHL and the roughly 200 players who announced in early May their decision to boycott the league until they receive increased compensation, among other concerns. The NWHL lost several stars, including Olympic gold medalists like Amanda Kessel, who have been playing in a multi-city exhibition tour around the country that started earlier this month. Many of those players have become members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, which was created within weeks of the public boycott with the goal of supporting a “viable women’s pro league in North America.”
Rylan said an opportunity to collaborate with those players would be something she’d “love to do” in the future.
Even without those stars, the 2019-20 regular season will begin Oct. 5. Five teams will play an expanded 24-game schedule, and there are new financial commitments by the league for more than 100 signed players. Each team’s salary cap has increased from $100,000 to $150,000 this season and there is now a 50/50 revenue split pertaining to media agreements and league sponsorship deals. As a result of the latter, the money from all deals to date, according to Rylan, has resulted in player salaries increasing 26% from the shared money pool. That also includes the reported $100,000 annual contribution by the NHL to the league.
Only one club has an independent owner: the Boston Pride’s Miles Arnone, who purchased the team from the league for an undisclosed amount this month. Kim and Terry Pegula, who own the Buffalo Sabres, sold the Buffalo Beauts back to the league. The Boston Pride and Minnesota Whitecaps have current partnerships with the Boston Bruins and Minnesota Wild, respectively.